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“You were faithful, your country was not…”

November 11th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

First off, Veterans Day is about honoring veterans. It is not Memorial Day. Memorial Day is about those who fell, Veterans Day is about those who lived. It was originally commemorated as Armistice Day and the date coincides with the end of World War I: 11/11/1918 at 11:00AM. You could not create a more senseless war in fiction than World War I was in reality. It was after World War II that the day was renamed Veterans Day to remember those who served in the wars after. Of all the wars the US has waged, I think only World War II truly represented the sacrificial spirit we as Americans would like to think we have in all of our dealings in the world. Aside from that, and maybe the Revolutionary war, America’s wars have been no more or less senseless and evil than all of the other wars. There is little honorable, glorious, or ennobling about war.

But if there is any redeeming quality to war at all, it is in the spirit of devotion and sacrifice it engenders in ordinary men and women. Men and women can be willing to go to war for great causes. The causes they really fight for, cooked up by generals and politicians, may not be so great, may indeed be criminal. But the spirit of those who offer their lives in sacrifice is great. Those who have served know a bond with their comrades that others cannot imagine. When you interview those who fought, they often will say they volunteered for the greater cause, but in the end they fought for each other. All of the artificial barriers we erect in our societies between people fell, and all that was left was the common bond of humanity. All that remains is an ocean of love and respect.

So Veterans Day is about the veteran. It’s not about the wars in which they fought. It’s not about the generals and politicians who played them like pawns in cynical games. It’s about their spirit of love and sacrifice; what they were willing to give: for each other, and for their country.

I think this memoir by a Vietnam vet for his fallen comrade expresses it best:

So much was lost with you, so much talent and intelligence and decency. You were the first from our class of 1964 to die. There were others, but you were the first and more: you embodied the best that was in us. You were a part of us, and a part of us died with you, the small part that was still young, that had not yet grown cynical, grown bitter and old with death. Your courage was an example to us, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, nothing can diminish the rightness of what you tried to do. Yours was the greater love. You died for the man you tried to save, and you died pro patria. It was not altogether sweet and fitting, your death, but I’m sure you died believing it was pro patria. You were faithful. Your country was not. As I write this, eleven years after your death, the country for which you died wishes to forget the war in which you died. Its very name is a curse. There are no monuments to its heroes, no statues in small-town squares and city parks, no plaques nor public wreaths, nor memorials. For plaques and wreaths and memorials are reminders, and they would make it harder for your country to sink into the amnesia for which it longs. It wishes to forget and it has forgotten. But there are a few of us who do remember because of the small things that made us love you — your gestures, the words you spoke, and the way you looked. We loved you for what you were and what you stood for.  Philip Caputo A Rumor of War 300

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